Blinken traveled to the Asia-Pacific region on Tuesday with the goal of bolstering regional partnerships in the face of an expansionist China, even as the crisis continues on the Ukrainian border.
Blinken will spend three days in Melbourne for a meeting with the foreign ministers of the Quartet, the informal grouping between the United States, Japan, India and Australia that Washington hopes will become a bulwark against Beijing’s pursuit of regional hegemony.
The visit will include meetings with senior Australian officials, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison, as they seek to build on the AUKUS tripartite defense pact struck in September with Britain. China’s shock challenge included a deal between Washington and Canberra to buy eight nuclear-powered submarines.
His trip comes just hours after a press conference in Washington with top European Union officials sought to show a united front over the threat posed by the estimated 140,000 Russian soldiers now massed on the Ukrainian border.
Departing from Australia on Saturday, Blinken will make a brief stop in Fiji to meet with a number of Pacific island leaders – many of whom are being wooed by China.
“The main message the Secretary will be taking with him on this trip is that our partnerships are paying off,” said Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Krettenbrink.
“The Quartet is a key component of the US foreign, economic and security policy in the Indo-Pacific region,” he said.
Through this partnership, we strengthen the security environment in the region to confront aggression and coercion.
Launched in 2007, the Quadruple Security Dialogue provided a framework for what began as a joint US-Indian-Japan naval exercise in the Indian Ocean, dubbed the Malabar Exercise.
Australia’s commitment to the initiative waned until 2017, when the alliance was revitalized with an emphasis on confronting China, as Beijing expanded its military presence regionally.
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Australia rejoined the Malabar exercises in 2020, the same year that Chinese and Indian forces were engaged in bloody clashes in a disputed border region, giving traditionally unaligned New Delhi a boost to rally.
India is the “crucial and decisive member of the Quartet,” Kurt Campbell, the White House coordinator for the Indo-Pacific region, said in November.
Washington has in recent years sought to expand the Quartet’s goals, using it as a framework for coronavirus vaccine distribution and climate talks.
“It’s not just about competing with China,” Campbell said. “It’s also about developing areas where we think we have something to offer.”
The meetings in Melbourne will help set the agenda for the Quartet leaders’ summit in Japan, expected sometime in the middle of the year.
The Blinken meetings in Australia will take place under the cloud of the continuing Russian threat to Ukraine.
Even as the top American diplomat prepared to leave for Melbourne, American officials were saying that Russia had at least 110,000 soldiers and significant amounts of firepower ready for an invasion on its pro-Western neighbor’s borders.
“This is not a concern. These are just the facts,” Blinken said at a news conference on Monday.